On Monday I didn’t have any appointments and I was planning on getting stuck into a ton of paperwork that really needed to be done. However the weather was supposed to be the nicest it had been so far this year… 19 C and sunny. After such a long winter where I’ve hardly been out on my bike at all, I decided to ditch work and ride down to Milton and get in some hill training.
I’m not a climber. I always get dropped on the hills whether it’s a KOM sprint on a group ride, or a race like the Centurion. Last year at the Centurion in Horseshoe Valley and Blue Mountain, I lost contact with the front on the first climb and never made it back. In Ellicottville I managed to get back on after getting dropped on the first 3 climbs, but the effort was huge every time and I couldn’t keep it up. The strong guys rode away from me on the next hill.
I actually enjoy riding up hills… I just don’t like racing up hills. But hey, maybe with practice I can improve.
My original plan to work all morning and then go for a ride at lunch got kiboshed when I realized that I wasn’t gonna make it up some of the hills with the current gearing on my bike. At first I thought I’d give it a shot with my 12-25 cassette, but decided that it might prove too ambitious, especially this early in the season. So I swapped my carbon Easton wheels with the aluminum Ksryiums which were fitted with an 11-28 cassette. This meant changing to a longer chain and switching the brake pads too, and by the time I was ready to roll, I didn’t end up getting much work done at all.
It was April 15 and this was only the second time I was able to wear shorts this year. I was glad I wore arm warmers though, as it wasn’t going to make it up to 19C after all. I decided on my favourite hill training route… it’s like my mini condensed Tour of Flanders as it includes a series of short, steep climbs, kinda like the bergs from the Belgian classic. Southern Ontario is pretty flat and it seems that the only decent hills we have are part of the Niagara Escarpment, a ridge that runs from Niagara to Tobermory. There’s a challenging section at Kelso Conservation Area which is only about 35km from my house. The hills around here are short but quite steep in places, with grades exceeding 10 and even 20%.
There are 6 hills on my route… first up was the Col du Watson, which is a regular hill I ride since it’s close to home. It’s only about 700m long with an average grade of around 6%. I had just joined Strava the night before and all of a sudden I felt a kind of peer pressure as I made my way up the hill. I was suddenly self conscious that I was going to be assessed by my fellow cyclists. Maybe this will be good motivation to train hard!
After reaching the top I headed for Kelso which is about another 15km to the next hill, Sideroad 14. This climb is the first of 4 in a row. I go as far as Bell School Line which is just over a kilometre long and averages 8%. I was really feeling the workout at this point but I got a breather on the way down Bell School Line to Derry Rd. It’s typical to exceed 80km/hr on several of these descents, but today I was taking it easy and topped out around 75km/hr.
Next up was Appleby Line to Rattlesnake Point, rumoured by some to be the steepest hill in Ontario. The main climb is less than a kilometre long, averages 13% and includes a couple of switchbacks where the grade exceeds 20%. This one hurts and I was just trying to make it up today without having a heart attack. Screw Strava! I didn’t care what my pace was at this point : ) I was so glad that I had changed the gearing now, as I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have made it with my 12-25. I recovered on the flat and then came back down Sideroad 14. There was loose gravel on the road and I was a little tense on the corners of this 75km/hr descent!
Steeles Ave came next which is the longest hill at around 1.5km and averages 7.5%. It starts out pretty steep hitting 15% before easing up on the second half. After making a right turn on Appleby Line, there’s a flat stretch before the next steep downhill section back to Campbellville Road. You hit a double railway track at high speed on the way down and I always feel like I might get airborne! It’s also not uncommon to get stuck behind cars that are travelling slower than you on all of these descents.
The next climb is Sixth Line which averages 7.5% for just over a kilometre with a maximum grade of 11%. This one is straight and steady and once crested, it’s a rolling ride back to Guelph before the final hill which is known by the locals as the Watsonberg. It’s only 500 meters to the top but the main climb averages 13% and nears 20% at the steepest part. The first time I ever rode up this hill… on my steel KHS commuter bike… I almost didn’t make it. I avoided it for quite a while afterwards. Then I bought my first road bike and eventually came back as my rides got longer. After doing it a few times I began to enjoy the challenge. Now, the former dread has ben transformed into comfort. The Watsonberg is now a welcome sight. It means I’m almost home!